Who’s in Charge in Egypt? Short Answer: We don’t know. Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn, who is based in Istanbul, offers her take below.
Transitions to democracy have never been easy. It’s hard to tell if the last few weeks in Egypt are a rewrite of the past two years, a new chapter, or a separate book entirely. While millions convulsed in celebration over the military’s removal of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi, many concede the road ahead will be uphill.
Navigating Egypt’s political turmoil can be headache inducing. My social media feeds and networks on the ground are often split feverishly between two myopic and exclusionary camps. But the country is deeply polarized across political and cultural fault lines that are more complicated than the familiar binary tropes of Islamist vs. secular, or rich vs. poor.
Most of the youth and “secular/liberal” (a label that’s surely reductionist) forces that backed the military’s removal of Morsi haven’t submitted to convenient amnesia: they vividly recall a less-than-sunny military rule and a host of abuses under the military’s 17-month-leadership following Mubarak’s ouster. The same advocates who protested the direct rule of shadowy generals now face a difficult reality of making sure the military heeds their calls for reform. Many constantly tell me they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, between a power-hungry Muslim Brotherhood and a military better suited for staying in barracks than mediating democracy. What’s more, the new interim civilian cabinet has been disputed from the get-go. (To help one navigate the intense carousel of analyses and counter-analyses on the military’s removal of Morsi, here’s a cohesive reading list put together by Guardian journalist Jack Shenker.)
The forces behind Morsi’s ouster, a disparate cornucopia of leftist and secular movements, face the same difficult task they did following Mubarak’s ouster two and half years ago: translating the discontent and momentum that make for riveting street protests into effective and durable political movements. It’s a lot easier to stand together in a square against one figure, be it Mubarak or Morsi, than it is to unite after he’s gone. The question of what one stands for, rather than merely against, is much harder to answer.
This week, hundred of thousands of demonstrators are pouring into streets of cities and towns across Egypt to protest the many shortcomings of the country’s first democratically elected government. In the wake of the 2011 revolution, political power in Egypt changed hands, but the deep-rooted problems that triggered the unrest—poverty, rampant corruption and a lack of opportunity—remain stubbornly entrenched.
With nearly half its population under age 30, education is the key to Egypt’s future, but as Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn reports on CNN’s website, “Egypt rank(s) near the bottom — 131st out of 144 countries — for quality of primary education. Egypt’s literacy rate is 66%, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Meanwhile, a report by London think tank Chatham House says just $129 a year is spent on each Egyptian student.” The U.S., by comparison, spends 40 times that amount.
Bohn traveled to Upper Egypt, the poorest part of the country, and found little cause for optimism: “Many schools look more like rank penitentiaries rather than hubs of learning. Students and teachers seem to be on the verge of exhaustion rather than bursting with inspiration. And forget technology. Desks and a stable electricity supply are luxuries.”
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Qena, Egypt—In a deserted playground a few hundred miles south of Cairo, 13-year-old Asmaa Ashraf fiddles with a broken rusted slide. She is waiting listlessly for a lesson with her math tutor.
The bright-eyed teenager lives in a sepia-toned village in the province of Qena, a place of rural poverty and neglect. But she has big dreams about education. She wants to open a school one day.
"At my school, we’ll learn," she says, brushing her hands longingly over the slide.
"Teachers will show up and we’ll be allowed to ask questions. We’ll be allowed to draw with color."
Such aspirations, however, amount to fantasy for most youth in a country still struggling to land on its feet after being turned completely upside down.
Keep reading Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn’s piece for CNN here.
Meet Egypt’s forgotten indigenous people, the Nubians, in a slideshow by grantee Lauren Bohn. Gaffour, pictured here, told Bohn that “Nubians have lived on this land for thousands of years. We’ve been discriminated against, but what’s worse is being neglected and ignored, like we’re not even here.”
The cities of Minya, Qena, and Assiut feel far away from Egypt’s famed Tahrir Square – both in distance and spirit.
The neglected region of Upper Egypt runs south of Cairo, extending more than 500 miles to Aswan. It’s been plagued by institutional apathy and corruption for years.
When Egypt’s political powers – be it the military or the Muslim Brotherhood – speak of loyal majorities who don’t protest in the Square, or when Egypt’s revolutionaries talk about the need to “reach the people” they have cities like these in mind. Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren Bohn narrates a slideshow showing her journey through rural Upper Egypt. See her project here.
79 percent of Egyptian women report personally experiencing domestic violence, but the subject is not discussed openly. The Jesuit Theater Company uses interactive theater to explore domestic violence with a cast made of both men and women from different religions. Learn more here. Image and story by Lauren E. Bohn. Egypt, 2013.
Serene, beautiful Abu Simbel Egypt, 40 km north of Sudan. Qualms: plunge in tourism, general neglect under a deeply centralized, corrupt government.
Read more of her reporting on the Egypt beyond the revolution here.
Marwa serves as her younger cousin Abdel’s de facto tutor. For youth like Marwa and Abdel, Egypt’s inadequate education system cements the stark social and economic inequalities that were at the very heart of the uprising that packed Tahrir Square. “When will it change” is the question Marwa says she asks herself everyday. Image and caption by Pulitzer Center grantee Lauren E. Bohn. Egypt, 2012. Read the full story here at Pulitzercenter.org: http://bit.ly/PAjNPc.
Protests Erupt in Wake of Official First Round Presidential Election Results
Protests erupted last night after final results were announced in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election. The top two candidates in the first round of the race are Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. This is the report that we aired on Democracy Now! today: